It's hard to complain when you're a top 10 team, but the series against Florida State exposed the two problems that threaten to separate N.C. State from being very good and being Omaha good. The Pack lack consistent starting pitching behind ace Carlos Rodon, and they are overpowered at the plate by elite teams.
The Seminoles (42-10, 18-9) pounded Pack starter Brad Stone, who failed to get out of the first inning a day after Ethan Ogburn could not get out of the second. The Wolfpack (39-13, 16-10) twice displayed warning track power with a chance to get back in the game, with Tarran Senay missing a three-run bomb by inches in the third and Trea Turner coming up short with two on in the sixth. The slugging Seminoles clobbered three home runs en route to the series-clinching 8-4 win. The Pack have now been out-homered 31-25 on the season overall and a very telling 21-9 in conference play.
The Seminoles actually lack power outside of three and four hitters Stephen McGee and Marcus Davis, but the 17 bombs between those middle of the order bashers have helped the team to a +18 home run margin. Davis went yard twice and drove in three runs in Monday's finale; McGee had a homer and two RBI.
Meanwhile, FSU starter Scott Sitz, generously listed at 5-10 (he is shorter), 210 pounds (he is heavier), commanded a wide arsenal of less than overpowering stuff to keep the Pack at bay. Sitz, a senior who looks like the butterball turkey lovechild of Ron Jeremy and Kenny Powers, improved to 9-1 on the season. The Noles' #3 starter has a 1.66 ERA on the season; Mike Martin's squad has four pitchers with 10+ starts and ERAs at or under 3.41. They are set up perfectly for tournament play.
Ogburn and Stone have both shown flashes of being serviceable starters in nonconference play but sport 6.75 and 7.12 ERAs, respectively, against league foes. It may be time to give Josh Easley and Logan Jernigan another crack at the starting rotation.
Easley did what Sitz did and what Stone could not: he took advantage of home plate umpire Mark Chapman's generous outside corner. Easley, who had a brief two-start trial early in the season, dropped his ERA to 1.65 after holding the Noles to one hit over three and a third innings by consistently painting the outside of the outside corner.
Jernigan, who pitched a scoreless ninth Monday, has walked nearly a batter per inning this season but has held opponents to a .183 average and, miraculously, has an ERA of 1.06. The low ERA is unsustainable given his command problems, but he at least has the stuff to get outs against elite competition. Someone needs to get the game to the fifth inning with a lead and allow the backend of the bullpen, led by Chris Overman and his 0.00 ERA, to finish the deal.
As for the offense in the loss, Grant Clyde gapped his 15th double of the season and scored twice. Turner had a triple among his two hits, and Bryan Adametz drove in two runs.
N.C. State entered Monday's contest a ½ game behind FSU in the race for the ACC Atlantic Division title and still have slim hopes for capturing the division despite the setback. If the Pack pull off a sweep at Duke in their final ACC series and Clemson, which is a game behind the Noles, wins two of three in Tallahassee this weekend, State will come out on top. A series win for the Noles or a Tiger sweep keeps State out of first no matter how it finishes the season. The Blue Devils are just 9-18 in ACC play, but they are 6-6 at home, where they held Georgia Tech to two runs over three games in a series earlier this year. The Pack have actually been better away from home (8-4) than at home (8-6) against league opponents.